BCS survey shows a lack of understanding of variety of IT options, but on the postive side IT was not seen as a career choice just for boys.
The IT profession and careers advisers are failing to show large numbers of schoolgirls that IT jobs involve more than secretarial tasks, according to new BCS research.
When asked which activities came to mind when thinking about a career in IT, 17% of the 273 girls questioned spontaneously said office work, 17% said secretarial and typing work, and 11% said word processing. These were the top three replies.
Graphic design was fourth, mentioned spontaneously by 10%. Then came teaching IT (9%), with computer maintenance just behind (7%). Only 3% mentioned programming and just 1% thought of software development.
Computer science lecturer Sue Black, who heads the BCS Women Group, said she was concerned by the survey results. "Careers advisers and the IT profession itself are clearly failing to engage girls with a more exciting vision of IT as a rewarding and varied career option," she said.
"The figures suggest a lack of understanding of the variety of IT career options available, perhaps a consequence of inadequate careers advice or the shortage of female role models in IT."
Even so, the BCS was encouraged by the fact that 27% of the girls, aged 13-17, said they would consider studying IT at university or college, and a similar number would consider an IT career.
In addition 12% found IT lessons very enjoyable and 53% quite enjoyable.
"These are clearly encouraging findings and suggest a curiosity and interest which challenges traditional attitudes," the BCS said. "This is coupled with the fact that 40% of those questioned use computers for games - an activity commonly associated with boys."
The BCS was also encouraged by the fact that when asked why they would not consider an IT career not one mentioned a geeky image or a belief that IT was more suitable for boys.
Indeed, when asked why they would consider an IT career 13% said it was exciting and had a fun image. The main reason here was an interest in IT, mentioned by 59%, followed by optimism about the industry: 26% thought there were good career opportunities, 21% saw it as a growing industry, and 15% said the money was good.
Overall Black was "cautiously encouraged" by the survey, which, she said, showed an emerging positive trend in female attitudes towards IT.
"For many years the IT profession has been dogged by an image of being predominantly male," she said. "I am confident that with greater persuasion and positive career guidance - and better focus from the IT profession itself - young women could now overturn this."
The research results come at a time of new effort to attract girls into IT through the launch in June of the Computer Clubs for Girls scheme.
The full BCS survey report is at www.bcs.org/survey/report/girlsandIT